21.11.07 - THE GRAND NATIONAL
John Smith's Grand National Prize Money Continues to Grow
Following a tour of his yard, Elliot spoke of the disappointed that his stable star would be unable to compete in the 2008 renewal owing to injury, (the first occasion a Grand National victor has been unable to defend his crown since Red Marauder’s victory in 2001) but confirmed that the 2009 National was firmly on Silver Birch’s return schedule.
Born on March 2, 1978 in Summerhill, Co Meath, Gordon Elliott was not from a racing family and became interested in the sport as a schoolboy. He first worked for Tony Martin at the trainer’s County Meath stable while still at school and quickly established himself as a highly-proficient point-to-point rider, partnering around 200 winners between the flags as well as over 50 winners under Rules in Ireland.
After also working for trainer Michael Cunningham, Elliott made the move to Britain in 2002 when he joined champion trainer Martin Pipe. He continued to ride as an amateur and narrowly missed out on obtaining a mount in the John Smith’s Grand National.
A return to Tony Martin preceded Elliott taking out a licence to train himself in February, 2006, at Capranny Stables, Trim, County Meath. The stables are owned by Barry Callaghan, the head of the Dun Doire syndicate, who had the Tony Martin-trained Dun Doire run in the 2007 John Smith’s Grand National.
One of Elliott’s owners is Brian Walsh from County Kildare. Walsh has spent the past three years establishing a high-quality band of almost 20 broodmares at Rheindross Stud in Kilcock, and made a big splash in the sales ring in April, 2006, when paying 220,000 guineas for Racophorus, a record for a jump mare in training.
A former winner of the totesport.com Becher Chase and the Welsh National when trained by Paul Nicholls, Silver Birch was purchased for just 20,000 guineas on behalf of Walsh by agent Michael Donohoe at Doncaster in May, 2006. Silver Birch failed to win in his first four outings for his new connections, although he put up a decent performance to finish second to Heads Onthe Ground in the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He was then sent to Aintree for the John Smith’s Grand National, where he was rated a 33/1 chance. Prominent from towards the end of the first circuit, Silver Birch led approaching the final furlong and stayed on resolutely to deny the fast-finishing McKelvey by three quarters of a length.
Reflecting on his John Smith’s Grand National success with Silver Birch, Elliott said: "To be honest, we fancied him at Cheltenham, when he was second (in the Cross Country Chase at The Festival in March). Perhaps he had too tough a task giving 12lb to a useful opponent. But to think that I was going to win the Grand National - that would have been a bit cocky!
"We thought that with a bit of luck, we had a big chance of finishing in the first five. Jason Maguire, who is a good friend of mine, walked the course with me on the morning of the race and he said he couldn’t see Silver Birch being out of the first four. Everyone said he was a mudlark, but Jason called it right.
"Looking back, it was just an amazing day. It’s a race you’ve always watched since you can remember. To win the Grand National in my first proper season training is a dream come true. How could it be anything else?
"The atmosphere at Aintree was electric. There were a lot of other Irish owners there including the owners of Dun Doire - and they celebrated afterwards almost as much as if their horse had won! The reception we received when we got back to Ireland was brilliant. It was just unbelievable.
"The story with the horse makes it even mores special. He was written off and almost like a has-been.
"Winning the Grand National is great in a million different ways. We have attracted new owners to the yard and hopefully they will bring in the better horses. Hopefully, we can keep on improving and winning more races.
"Silver Birch jumped and travelled great the whole way - he never put a foot wrong. He actually idled out in front but it worked out great. McKelvey was coming so quick you couldn’t think too much. Robbie [Power] was brilliant. No jockey could have done a better job on the day.
"Our only concern before the race was whether he could lie up on the good ground. But he had his ears pricked early on and started jumping from fence to fence, so I knew he was going to be fine.
"We had a great reception when we got home. David Pipe and Ashley Farrant came over and it was great."
Unfortunately, Silver Birch will not be able to defend his crown at Aintree in April due to an injury to his near-fore, although Elliott is optimistic about the future.
He continued: "Silver Birch is fine, but he’s on the easy list.
"We could have had him back by January, but it would have been a rush to get him ready for Aintree, so we decided to pull the plug for the season.
"He’ll be back next season, and will be aimed at the John Smith’s Grand National in 2009.
"We have a horse, Newton Bridge, who was our first winner at Cheltenham on Friday, and he could be a possibility for a race such as the John Smith’s Topham Chase at Aintree in April.
"He’s won a couple of times over fences, and he could be the type of horse to go to Aintree."
The trainer has increased his number of horses to 40 following the John Smith’s Grand National success in April.
Elliott remarked: "They are nice young horses. Things are going well for us."
Silver Birch, who will be 12 when he is able to return to the John Smith’s Grand National in 2009, is the first winner of the great race not to defend his crown since the 2001 victor Red Marauder, also because of injury. The last 12-year-old to win the John Smith’s Grand National was Amberleigh House in 2004.
MEETING PRIZE MONEY UP BY £240,000 (€343,200)
Once again, the total prize money for the John Smith's Grand National meeting has risen, this year by a staggering £240,000 with £2,285,000 (€3,575,000) to be won over the three-day meeting (April 3rd – 5th 2007).
The most significant increases have occurred on the opening day of the meeting, with an increase of £30,000 (€42,900) in the opening race of the meeting, the John Smith’s Liverpool Hurdle and an added £10,000 (€14,300) in the 2.35pm John Smith’s Bowl Steeplechase (formerly the Betfair Bowl), the 4.20pm John Smith’s Red Rum Handicap Steeple Chase and the final race on the card, the 5.30pm John Smith’s No Nonsense Handicap Hurdle.
Prize money on the second day of the meeting sees a £35,000 boost with the John Smith’s Topham Steeple Chase seeing a £10,000 (€14,300) boost in prize money.
Prize money on John Smith's Grand National day rises to £1,285,000 (€1,837,550) with the John Smith's Extra Smooth Handicap hurdle increasing by £10,000 to £60,000 (€85,800) and the John Smith’s Extra Cold Handicap Hurdle up £10,000 to £60,000 (€85,000) in 2008.
Commenting on the significant prize money increases in 2008, Julian Thick, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse said: “We are delighted to be able to announce a considerable increase in prize money for the John Smith’s Grand National meeting in 2008. We are blessed with an incredibly supportive partner in John Smith’s who share our commitment to continually improve the quality of the race meeting and we firmly believe we’ve made a step forward with this increase.”
SALES ON TARGET FOR 2008 SHOWCASE EVENT
Aintree Racecourse today announced that ticket and corporate hospitality sales for the three day 2008 John Smith’s Grand National meeting have been exceptionally strong, with some packages selling out within the week of going on sale in August this year. Once again, the racecourse is predicting bumper crowds following the successful 2007 meeting when Aintree finished all development works and opened its new Grandstands, the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton stands.
Commenting on his first National in command at the famous Liverpool course, Managing Director, Julian Thick, said: “It has been a real eye opener coming back to the region and realising the passion for the three day event. The demand when we went on sale was unbelievable and indication that the significant investment in facilities over the last three years has been well received. Our customers like to buy early and plan for the event some 7 months in advance.
“We have made some small changes to the packages on offer in 2008 and have now introduced a new facility in the County Stand called the Platinum County Lounge, offering VIP benefits to a standard enclosure with private seating. This is one of the areas that has been in huge demand and has sold out on all three days of the meeting.”
Tickets and hospitality packages are still available for all three days of the meeting, including limited seat badges. Racegoers are advised to purchase their preferred badge before Christmas to avoid disappointment.